Archive for the 'Fez' Category

One More Kittie Post

Posted by len on 27th November 2006

Cats on Len  These kitties were living near a shrine and really liked climbing on you if you stopped moving for a moment or two. Good kitties.

Posted in Fez | 7 Comments »

Kitties of the Maghreb

Posted by len on 21st November 2006

IMGP3164.JPGCats are quite abundant all over Morocco, and especially in Fez. They aren’t super mean or aggressive either. There’s also every age represented, from kittens to old, scarred nasties. Many of them like to hang out near garbage. It’s pretty cute to be drinking a coffee and have a little kitten wander over doing that cutesy meeyu, meeyu that only kittens can do. Kitten in Pizza Box
There are many fewer dogs and the ones that you see are so incredibly lazy that they’ll sleep in the middle of streets and wait for cars to stop in front of them and honk before they move.
Aloof Alif Kittie Some of the strays are partially adopted by nearby businesses or families and given shots, etc.
Stacked Cats

Posted in Fez | 5 Comments »

A Moroccan Wedding

Posted by len on 20th November 2006

Last thursday I had the opportunity to go to a Moroccan wedding here in Fez. I was invited by a man, Nabil, about 27 I’d guess, whom we met on the train back from Meknes. He was recently married to an American woman living in Florida but grew up and lived his whole life in Fez, Morocco. He spoke English very well. His friend Joseph’s cousin was getting married and that was the happy occasion that let me experience Morocco from the inside. The first bizarre part of the whole experience was telling Nabil I could probably not go since I had French class until 9pm. Not a problem for Morocco. All Moroccan weddings start around 11pm at night and go until about 7am! So he picked me up at 10:30pm and we arrived at a reception hall, not unlike the ‘event spaces’ you can rent around America for large groups. Large tables filled the floor and each table was full. Women filled the tables on the left and men on the right. Just as we made our way across the red carpeting to our table, about 15 catering staff, each carrying a large covered silver serving dish, flooded from the back in a choreographed stream. I was squeezed in next to Nabil and Joseph at a large round table with about 15 Moroccan men. Seconds after sitting down the first course appeared from the caterers: a one and half foot diameter seafood pastilla, looking very much like a huge covered pie outside its pie tin. Pastilla is a pastry-covered sweet and savory dish usually with chicken or pigeon that also liberally employs confectioners sugar. It’s a very uniquely Moroccan dish and supposedly a specialty of Fez. This pastilla was somewhat different: it had seafood inside, along with a thin pasta and other seasonings. It was very spicy (which seems rare for Morocco) but fantastic. Everyone cut themselves a slice and washed it down with bottled water and Fanta. That dish was replaced with half a lamb, surrounded by olives and a small plate containing salt and cumin to sprinkle over your meat. Everyone attacked it only with their right hands, trying to peel meat away onto their plates. Using the left hand is seen as ill-mannered since it is considered the cleaning hand and not the one for eating. Sometimes a fork was employed to help scrape meat off. Also, everyone got a large round of bread, a very typical Moroccan serving. The lamb dish was reduced to bones before it was replaced by three chickens, covered in a savory sauce and topped with olives. I was amused by Joseph trying at one point to get meat off using only one hand. It can be as problematic as you imagine. He struggled a bit with a twisting motion trying to tear meat away. A lifetime of similar weddings has given all Moroccans the ability to persevere I imagine. Luckily, Joseph usually did the tearing for me as well. After the chicken came the final course: a pile of fruit. After dinner all the women moved into a connected chamber where the band had set up and the men congregated around the dinner tables. The band began playing what my friend Nabil said was ‘pop music’. It was a very Moroccan sounding up-tempo kind of music mostly based around triplets. Meanwhile we moved to one of the closer tables to be able to see the band and were served espresso and small cookies and pastries. Another interesting difference of Moroccan eating I had heard about showed up here: shared water. There were about 7 men sitting at my table but only 3 water glasses. I filled one and took a sip. A moment after putting it down, still half full, another man snatched it up and took a drink. After about 15 minutes of listening to the band a procession of the betrothed couple occurred. The bride, sitting cross-legged in an ornate box, was raised up by four men and paraded outside. The groom was put on a decorated horse and the fassi folk music kicked in. The music now became very medieval: Two long horns that could only play one note each; Two of those shrill snake-charmer pipes, and very large, very loud tambourines. This music got louder and faster as the bride swayed gently in her box and waved. The groom sat smiling on his horse, quietly acknowledging the friends and family surrounding him. The whole time the bride looked incredibly unhappy. I have no idea if that’s the case but she had the most sour expression on her heavily made-up face. She also wore a crown and elaborate jewelry. The man was much more simply decked out, with only a fancy shirt and vest. The horse and box were moved inside while the music reached a crescendo of speed and loudness. It was so intense that it dawned on me at that moment how it was possible to keep an entire wedding awake from 11pm to 7am: you make it get incredibly loud now and again. Nabil told me that this procession is repeated throughout the night, each time the bride changing outfits. Next the original band kicked in again but now with Berber dancers from the middle Atlas mountains (since some of the family were from there, I was told). Three black-haired dancers, who were all fairly heavy women, made the most of their long hair, at times whipping it around in a frenzy and even twice whipping it at men watching. Nabil’s friend Joseph grinned ear-to-ear with delight at watching them. Nabil decided to leave the wedding around 2:15 and we went to a nearby nightclub for a brief close to the evening. Before I left the wedding I noticed a large, American-style white wedding cake waiting in the corner. Nabil said it would be much later in the evening (or morning) that they would finally get to the cake. Though I was ready for bed I was a little saddened to miss what I heard was a nice benefit of attending a Moroccan wedding: come 6 am they give you breakfast.

Posted in Fez | 4 Comments »

Moroccan Food

Posted by sue on 15th November 2006

In response to heavy demand (okay, Jeanene asked), a word about eating in Morocco.

The food, in theory, is very good, and very similar to the food we had at Moroccan restaurants in L.A. The main dish here is tagine, a kind of stew/casserole dish made in a clay dish with a conical lid (called a tagine). It can have different ingredients– we most commonly see chicken or beef with vegetables, but it could be just about anything. And of course there’s couscous, usually prepared with meat and vegetables and sauce. Both tagine and couscous are typically eaten with your fingers (right hand only!) with pieces of bread to scoop out the food. And finally, one of our favorite things is pastilla, which is usually sweet chicken with cinnamon inside a pastry.

However, the delicious potential of Moroccan cooking is sadly not met in most of the restaurants we’ve eaten in. They just don’t have much of a restaurant culture here, so most people cook their big meals at home, so your best bet is “home cooking.” The best tagine I’ve had in Fez was at a group dinner at the student residence prepared by a very nice Moroccan woman named Leila, and the tagine prepared in caves (no joke!) by Berber women we had by the river on our field trip was also quite good. We do hear that there are some more expensive places in the medina with good food, but we’re trying to economize. We will have to splurge at some point.

Somewhat oddly, the best pastilla we’ve had was in a restaurant just around the corner from ALIF, which is an Italian place run by a nice Australian woman named Juliet.

By this point, I’ve had so much ho-hum restaurant food that I’m just not that excited to eat out, so Len and I make simple food at home. It is cheaper and healthier, but it’s funny that now that we’re actually cooking at home as much as we can, we don’t have our nice Calphalon pans or pile of utensils. We have a couple of cheapie pans, 4 forks, 3 spoons, 3 knives, 2 plates and 2 bowls. If we ever invite anyone over, we’ll have to buy more.

Posted in Fez, Morocco | 5 Comments »

Ramadan Prayer

Posted by len on 13th November 2006

Early this morning Sue and I were awakened around 5am by bizarre music, soft, but filling the night sky. It was, like all sounds happening that early and filling the air, from a distant mosque, or possibly several. It reminded me of audio that I captured several weeks ago during our second night in Morocco. It was one of the last days of Ramadan (the holy lunar month of fasting) and shortly before sunrise, while the sky was still pitch black, we heard an eerie vocalist. After several days it stopped being quite so eerie and just funky. One night I grabbed the Squid Cam and captured the sound as heard from our hotel room. I remember my first impression was being reminded of the spooky horn sounds from the death machines in Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. The audio is linked through You Tube.

Posted in Fez | 9 Comments »

Small Victories in Language Learning

Posted by sue on 9th November 2006

One of the funny things about living in Morocco, as a native English speaker, is how familiar and comforting French is, and I don’t even speak French. Even if you know some formal Arabic, as I do, Moroccan Arabic is very different and unless you put in some effort to study Moroccan Arabic as such, it’s hard to communicate with people around town. However, Moroccans also speak French, and they automatically speak French to white folk, so I just roll with it, ordering “cafe creme” instead of “qehwa belhleeb,” for instance, because it’s just easier.

For this reason, Morocco strikes me as an excellent place to learn French (and many of my fellow students at ALIF–mostly Americans–do speak French also), but not quite as good for learning Arabic. I have to force myself to read the Arabic on street signs and ads and grocery items rather than the familiar Roman letters of the French that are also on most things. Even though I know practically no French, there are so many cognates that it’s not that hard to figure things out when you see them in print (understanding the spoken language is a whole other thing, of course).

I am making progress, however, because my Arabic knowledge is overtaking my limited knowledge of French, and more and more often I use my knowledge of Arabic to figure out the French, rather than the other way around. Words in print are almost always Modern Standard Arabic, so that’s where my particular knowledge comes in handy. I may just learn this language yet.

Posted in Fez, Morocco | 6 Comments »

In Search Of: Hashish

Posted by len on 8th November 2006

One of the pieces of lore that got into my head before coming over to Morocco was that everyone smoked hashish nearly all the time and that like it or not I was going to be stoned out of my skull nearly every night as a result of my innocent and chaste cultural curiosity. I even think some of my friends back in LA still believe this to be true, with articles like the one you’re now reading being produced in the few cracks of time each day that I’m not dragging on an ornate iron pipe and smiling like the Chesire cat.
Well, this article is to serve as the definitive statement that hashish is so elusive that it has entered into the ‘in search of’ category here in Fez, Morocco. The following is a succinct account of our exposure thus far to what Moroccans call Kif.
Hookah, the Big Lie: Perhaps we just chose the wrong city but Fez appears to have virtually outlawed the hookah pipe. You see them in stores here and there but I’ve only seen one in use, once, deep in the medina, and it certainly smelled like the fruity light tobacco we remember from California. According to a guy in Meknes, a nearby city, restaurants need to get some kind of registration to allow hookah pipe smoking. Perhaps Morocco is experiencing a sort of cultural backlash from a hedonistic hookah-smoking era that ended a few days before we arrived.
The Smokescreen: Though positive sighting of hashish is rare, Moroccans smoke a lot. This could be part of the difficulty with my observational strategy. Just before dusk, men start filling the thousands of chairs spilling onto the sidewalks and corners all around the city. Most of them are smoking and drinking a cafe noire (straight espresso with sugar). Close by every cafe are one or two people peddling cigarettes, by the smoke, out of cases labeled Marlboro or Winston. I’ve strained to confirm that the cigarettes cradled between men’s fingers are in fact legal tobacco cigarettes. So far I have only seen what appears to be the tell-tale white-to-tan transition colors of typical cigs.
1st Sighting: The first actual positive sighting of hashish was about a week ago. We needed to telephone Sue’s parents so we walked down the street to a pay phone along the road (sad, huh?). Just a bit away from the road next to a cafe was a quieter area with a phone. While Sue gets her parents on the line I peek into the cafe to see what it’s like. A group of four men, most older than me by a large margin, notices me and makes the rare outreach and calls me over with “bon soire!”. I think the next bit, in English, was something like: “Hi. Join us. Have a smoke. Cannabis!” He hands me the cigarette he’s holding, which does look a lot like a typical manufactured cigarette though not that different than what I’ve heard marijuana cigarettes look like back home. [I hand it back to him and thank him for showing it to me]. We chat some and he even buys me a mint tea (a very typical Moroccan cafe item). Note: descriptions in brackets [ ] may or may not have actually occurred exactly as presented.
2nd Sighting: Just this past weekend found us on a train to Meknes, a city about a 50 minute train ride west of Fez. We were in a first class cabin with one other person, a rather lanky 20 something Moroccan man. Nearing the end of the trip he pulls something out of his luggage from the storage area above our heads. He then opens the door to the main corridor, where the conductor wanders, and with one furtive eye on the corridor starts measuring out dried plant matter onto some papers on his lap. Keep in mind that as this is happening we’re just glancing over wondering what the heck this guy is up to. After a few minutes he disappears, presumably to the bathroom or one of the standing sections between cars ( the only places you can go besides the corridor). Shortly after he leaves we notice a perfume-like scent wafting through our cabin that he just left. It was then that the whole picture came together, finishing with his trying to cover his tracks.

Posted in Fez, Morocco | 9 Comments »

Always in the Bad Part of Town

Posted by len on 8th November 2006

If you live in Los Angeles, or any large city for that matter, perhaps you’ve had this experience: You’re traveling somewhere in town, a ways from home, not sure exactly where you’re at, and the need arises to stop at a post office, or KFC for a bite, or perhaps Del Taco. No Problem. You can find one by sight as you pass the countless strip malls. Even though you don’t know this area, familiar signs and brands soothe the slight discomfort you feel being in a new part of town. You park the car and walk up to order your Gordita Meal Deal and see 2-inch-thick bullet-proof plexi-glass separating the workers from you, and everyone else standing next to you. “Hmm, that’s interesting,” you think to yourself. Over the next few seconds the experience begins to congeal with other semi-conscious observations you made shortly before: Pawn shops and bail bond signs that caught your eye as you passed in the car, a pile of garbage accumulating in a nearby gutter, a bizarre, unearthly absence of Starbucks. Some kind of calculation is happening in your brain which leads inevitably to the next thought: “Oh. I think I’m in the bad part of town.”
Luckily, this understanding tends to creep up relatively slowly. This is important since I’ve decided it’s absolutely crucial, once one has this realization, to play it cool. Otherwise you might find yourself sweating and gaping at the steel bars separating you from your KFC family bucket mumbling “Holy shit!” over and over.
If this experience is at all familiar to you then you have already experienced an aspect of what it has been like to live in Morocco these past three weeks. The cities are places from which there is no escape from the bad part of town.
However, this is only partially true, for some interesting reasons. Most importantly has to do with the feeling of threat. The bulletproof glass in a Del Taco in LA doesn’t create unease because of anything to do with your relationship with those behind the barrier but rather by its suggestion that the guy in line behind you could have a gun in his belt. In Fez, as well as other big cities in Morocco, though I’ve never seen either bulletproof glass or security bars in restaurants, there is a persistent, inescapable feeling of neglect: street renovation projects in a state of serious upheaval, sidewalks that are mostly broken concrete, buildings that look dilapidated and abandoned but aren’t. In LA and elsewhere I’ve lived in the U.S. these are the alert signs that heighten my personal surveillance and transform everyone around me, especially if I’m on foot at night, into a potential threat. I’ve found that in Morocco this rule needs to be softened or even abandoned. Most significantly, the people that surround us are difficult to realistically perceive as a threat. Just the other night, in a city called Meknes, Sue and I were walking home to our hotel in the old part of town. We took a shortcut that took us through a dark, seedy, enclosed alley. The dark sillouettes of some men loitering near the far end made me afraid, if just a bit. When we came to them, they were a familiar Moroccan sight: some mostly goofy-looking old men in tarbouches (similar to Fez hats) chit-chatting. And of course, everyone loiters in Morocco! That’s pretty much the national pastime once the sun goes down (which is shockingly early these days). Another aspect of our relationship with Moroccans is that everyone likes to look at us, especially Sue. Face after face passes us and quickly studies us with inscrutable expressions. I don’t know what they’re thinking but so far the few that we’ve started conversations with are very friendly and excited about our American-ness (There are so many French here, I think we’re a refreshing change for them). Ironically, it feels more comforting to have people overtly look at us than spying on us from around a corner, potentially planning something sinister. And of course, it allows me freedom to imagine what’s going through their minds; something like, “Wow! Americans. My god what a beautiful people.”

Posted in Fez, Morocco | 3 Comments »

Memories Invoked

Posted by len on 2nd November 2006

Hershey Kiss
I was reminded the other day of Hershey Park, in Hershey Pennsylvania.
God knows why that struck me here in Morocco.
Often random memories of my childhood do come into my mind.
The park featured streetlights that were shaped like chocolate kisses.
There was also a “How Hershey chocolates are made” kind of attraction.
Hotel-wise, the staff placed a Hershey’s chocolate bar on each bed pillow.
Every day the maids would put a new chocolate on the bed.
Ride-wise, they had the normal stuff you find at other amusement parks.
Unlike Disneyland, however, rides were not based on childhood characters but candy.
Nothing wrong with chocolate, I say.
Someday perhaps I’ll return to that place in my fading memories….

Posted in Fez | 8 Comments »

A Brief Overview

Posted by len on 1st November 2006

Here’s a super brief overview of life in Fez from Los Angeles perspective:
– Booze: not really a problem. Beer and wine are available in supermarkets and scattered liquor stores but virtually no restaurants.
– Laundry: No laundromats…AT ALL! And no cheapo laundry service. Over $1 per pair of pants or shirt. We’re forced to do laundry ourselves in a bucket! AHHHH!
– Cabs: You can get across town for 50 cents. I didn’t have enough small change once and the cabby actually smiled, waved, and drove off! I was willing to run to a shop but he just didn’t care enough. Compare with NYC.
– Telephone: Local calls are 35 cents/minute on our cell phone. Calls from our cell to the US are, supposedly, outrageous. The only cost effective way to call the US is from street pay phones using prepaid cards. Something like 35cents per minute.
– Cafe Scene: Lots of cafes all around the city. During the day they’re pretty empty and nice. At night, just around dusk, they fill with men. Only men. Women are nowhere to be seen so it feels strange going together as a couple.
– Cafe Creme: What would be called a small latte in the US. Cost is 50-80 dirham (75 cents). They give you a cup with a shot of espresso in it, then pour steamed milk in while you watch. I guess so you can confirm the quantity of espresso. Who knows.
– Night Life: In Fez, we have no idea. What we’ve heard is there is none. So far we go home around dusk and study, watch a DVD show (thanks Jim!) sometimes, then sleep.
– Games: Dusty cards in a back-alley room? No, I’m talking Playstation 2! We bought a tiny TV for the Playstation 2 that I lovingly hauled from Sony. Works great. No problem with TV signals, standards etc. We heard PS2’s go for about $400 here…STILL!
– Internet: There’s limitless free wireless at ALIF (Sue’s school – where I’m sitting right now) and there are alot internet “cafe’s” around town. We’ve only been to one but they are about $1.20/hour, fairly slow, and incredibly cramped.
– Language: Not alot of English. Most people know a bit. Cabbies know almost none. Most people speak French well. Hence I’m the main speaker for us so we are pretty much establishing our tard reputation fast. I’m starting french classes Thursday!

Let me know what else you might be curious about! Thanks for reading!

Posted in Fez | 5 Comments »